I’m waving the white flag. The Sabres aren’t making the playoffs and at this point, they are trending more likely to have a top 10 pick than to sneak into the wildcard. That’s not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to lottery odds and getting a high end prospect, but playoffs would taste much sweeter.
The Sabres remind me of when you used to play Mario Kart with your friends as a kid. You think you’re doing well, until you realize you were looking at the wrong screen, you are running into walls and falling off the map. At that point it’s too late to salvage any kind of comeback and all hope is lost for this one.
Now I don’t want to go as far as saying “all hope is lost for the Sabres” because there is plenty to watch for until the end of the season, but the playoffs are essentially out of the picture. While some guys in Buffalo should be playing for their jobs from now until their last game on April 6, the Rochester Americans are in the drivers seat for a spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs, which deserve the full support of Sabres fans.
With a playoff-style win Wednesday night against Utica, the Amerks regained the top spot in the North Division. Syracuse comes comes to Rochester tonight to kick off this weekend’s home-and-home series with the Amerks.
The Crunch started the season slowly, but they have been able to storm back up the standings. The most impressive stat the Crunch sport is a plus 52 goal differential. To put that into perspective, the Amerks are second in the Eastern Conference at plus 24.
With Syracuse having two games in hand, the worst outcome the Amerks want this weekend is to split. Two wins would be huge to help give Rochester a cushion, but that won’t happen if they try to get into a track meet with Syracuse. They need to play a close checking, playoff style hockey defensively but using their skill and speed to push the pace of play on the offensive end. Players getting caught up ice and odd man rushes will bury you against the Crunch.
Coming off a complete performance on Wednesday, staying consistent with this type of play will provide the younger guys more experience in what it takes to win games in April, May and hopefully June.
All eyes should be on Rochester as they make the push to the playoffs on the shoulders of rookie Victor Olofsson, Zach Redmond, CJ Smith, first-year Amerk Wayne Simpson and Danny O’Regan.
Even though he should be in Buffalo, Lawrence Pilut is going to alleviate the loss of Brendan Guhle in the Brandon Montour trade, but will play big, tough minutes with the new franchise leader in goals for a defenseman, Zach Redmond.
A key piece in a playoff run for Rochester could be a player that hasn’t suited up for the Amerks yet. Tage Thompson was made available for the AHL playoffs and could join Rochester on April 8, two days after the Sabres season ends. He’d be able to get four games in with the Amerks before the playoffs start, finding some chemistry in the top-6 as a scoring threat.
Now, he could certainly be sent down sooner, but I wouldn’t put my money on it Amerks fans. Regardless of when he’s sent down (assuming he is), having another goal scoring weapon with a wicked shot alongside Victor Olofsson can be lethal.
Just spit balling potential lines from their current players (plus Thompson):
Olofsson – Asplund – O’Regan
Smith – Leier – Thompson
Elie – Porter – Nylander
Simpson – Malone – Oglevie
Scratches: Criscuolo, Randell, Smith, Veilleux
Pilut – Redmond
Borgen – Tennyson
Dougherty – MacWilliam
Scratches: Hickey, Paetsch
I would like to add that players like Jacob Bryson, Casey Fitzgerald and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen could find their way to Rochester if they end up signing contracts (UPL already signed). It seems like the consensus on Sabres twitter would be to have UPL start in Cincinnati, especially with Jonas Johansson out for the rest of the year. I concur with this idea, no reason to rush him to Rochester to backup Wedgewood. Cincy is headed to the playoffs too (they’re 1st in the ECHL), so let him get his bearings down there.
Losing Guhle definitely hurts their production from the defense, but those are four really solid forward lines that they can roll consistently. When it comes to defense, you want them to play a heavy game in the playoffs. Having guys like Borgen, MacWilliam and Hickey when he gets in, those are big guys that as long as they lock it down defensively, should be enough to make a run.
If Amerks Head Coach Chris Taylor needs to split Pilut and Redmond to distribute more points around, Pilut with Tennyson and Borgen with Redmond would be my go to. Regardless of who is in and what the lines are, the confidence that was coursing through Sabres fans veins should be directed towards the Amerks going forward. Again, the rest of the season isn’t a throwaway for the Sabres, but it’s time to start rallying around the Rochester Americans.